Repetitive Behaviors

For the last couple of weeks, I've noticed that my 9 year old son has been chewing on things a lot. He also has been licking things as well as feeling the need to tap things twice. There has been a significant increasing in the tapping. I called his Neurologist's office and the nurse practitioner suggested that he may need Behavioral therapy rather than Occupational therapy. Any insight on this would greatly appreciated.


Thank you.

  • When my son started biting his shirts, it was anxiety. Please don't make the same mistake I did. We were struggling so I was all over him to stop ruining clothes. It never occurred to me that there wasnt anything else to bite than his hands.. I'd have let him ruin a million shirts than deal with the 3 years of therapy and my clenched stomach when I saw that he'd turned his attention to the backs of his hands.. Good luck
  • Thank you for your insight. I appreciate it. I was starting to lose hope since I don't see much activity on this site. Very strange.
  • Depends on what he bites/chews on. I'm not sure if this is an Aspie tendency, an OCD one, Flesch-Nyhan Syndrome (prominent symptom is biting flesh), or a combination of factors. I both tapped on things (still do) and chewed on my flesh, fingernails and anything else on my body that was handy, even picking my nose constantly. My obsessiveness was quite severe, though. I held my breath and walked in very distinct patterns (no stepping on cracks for instance) as well as other things. I tapped everything twice as a mathematical balance for me (to even things out; that was my sense in the world; if something "touched" me, I had to touch it back).

    So a few questions for you. Are the habits bothering him, or just you? If it is bothering you, is it for an important reason? Does this make him a bad or worse person in your eyes, or are you genuinely concerned about a neurological/psychological departure? Maybe my OCD and Aspie symptoms was part of why I didn't have friends in school, but that would be their problem, not me. Because I wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until 2-3 years ago (I'm 42 now), it had always been reinforced that my differences made me weird and perhaps bad.

    If he can communicate with you, just simply observe him without judging while he does certain activities for a 5-15 minute stretch (there are applied behavior analysis charts that you can find online to monitor his activity). Try different things like watching him play his favorite board game, having a conversation with you about things he likes and doesn't like, or have him build something (LEGO sets work for me). Then, simply talk to him about the things that you have noticed lately without offending him or hurting his feelings. Start by opening up first about what makes you different so he doesn't feel scared to open up. You might be surprised by the answers he gives you (or doesn't give you). If a counselor/psychologist is necessary, then you can use that information down the road. For instance, the 2 conditions were related for me; if I didn't chew on my hands, nails while picking my nose, I thought bad things would happen, so my OCD was more about rationalization. But EVERYONE's reason is DIFFERENT.

    Too bad he didn't live close enough to me. Sounds like me all over again. Make sure he has a good positive male role model who believes in him. By the way, I still do all these things, but I am who I am. If it is not neurological, CBT or IBT might work, but I think it only reinforces that a child is bad simply because he/she has habits or even a disorder. Treat the condition if you must, but love the person first.

  • Thank you Mark for your response.

    It is so important to hear it from someone who experiences it. I have asked my son why he does it and he said it makes him happy. The chewing and the tapping bother me because there is usually an underlying reason for his repetitive behavior, like anxiety and the tapping is progressing. He went for an OT evaluation yesterday. I'm pretty sure he will resume his sessions. He has epilepsy as well, so I have to pay attention to his behaviors to make sure they are not epileptic in nature. He is 9 years old so I am also trying to consider other reasons such as growth spurts, puberty, ready to get back to school, tired of many things to consider. I am blessed because he really is a sweet boy!

    He has an appointment with his neurologist in a couple of weeks so we will see what he says. He may want to increase the dosage of his Keppra after he checks his levels. We shall see.

    Thank you again for reaching out.

  • Interesting. My epilepsy (grand mal) did not start until i was 17, at the height of my OCD symptoms. I've been on Depakote since then. Watch for weight gain on the divalproate medicines, although admittedly I also just simply like to eat. My tapping (exponential) was a result of truly believing in bad luck if i did not resolve it. Certain colors, numbers and shapes were bad. Sounds made me hysterical. I never did chew on things aside from my own body, but no two people are alike. Don't dismiss the doctor, however, at least at first, if he doesn't feel that the tapping is serious or alarming. If it SIGNIFICANTLY interferes with his daily activities (example: it takes an hour to eat a small meal) then the OCD is severe enough to warrant medicine and/or CBT. Coping mechanisms can be helpful but the downside is that the new habit could be worse or as repetitive as the relatively benign one of tapping.

    Has any of his friends/family members teased him concerning his habits? How does he react to it?

  • Often the anxiety and OCD can be addressed through assessing and improving brain health. We're holding a free online class about autism on August 24th that will probably interest you.
  • Hi Mark.

    He had an OT evaluation a couple of weeks ago. The therapist tried a strategy called Therapeutic Listening. The music was soothing and he was very relaxed, almost lethargic after the session. By the end of the week, I noticed a decrease in the tapping.

    This week, she tried different music that was more upbeat. I am noticing an increase in the tapping. It's becoming disruptive. He has to finish his tapping before he can move on to the next thing. I have to admit that it's driving me nuts!!
    He is such a sweet boy. He really is. I feel badly because I keep wondering if I am doing something to cause this behavior. When I ask him how I can help him, the answers usually have to do with allowing him to watch TV and play an excessive amount of video games along with his tablet, which of course, is not happening. He gets really out of sync when he is allowed too much of these things. I've allowed it on purpose to see how if effected him.

    He does get teased a lot in camp because he likes to read ALL of the time and socially, he doesn't get the tricks played on him until afterward. He tattles a lot because he is a rules oriented person and when someone breaks the rules, it's a big deal for him. He is still trying to figure out what to tell and what not to tell. He said he doesn't get teased about the tapping though. His siblings are much older than he is but they are completely clueless about Autism.

    I have tried to explain how he processes information but it seems to go over their heads for the most part. They think I make too much of things. It's extremely frustrating because they aren't as helpful as they think they are.
    This is quite a learning process for the both of us. Transitioning is also very difficult for him.

    He keeps talking about missing his friends at school. I am hoping that once school starts in a couple of weeks, things will settle down for him.